THOMPSON, Conn. (July 7, 2003) -- The colorful parade of race car haulers converging on speedways across the northeast has long been a sure sign that the NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North Series is coming to town. Starting in 2002 and with increased frequency in 2003, the racing rigs, along with the NASCAR administration and Goodyear tire trucks, have a partner on the highways- the SPEED Channel mobile production unit. After a successful debut last season, the "Racing Across America" program has been expanded in 2003 to bring 12 of the 18 Busch North Series races to a national television audience. A similar number of events from the Winston West Series, the other half of the NASCAR Grand National Division, are receiving the same coverage, all leading up to the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale, California in November.
The next Busch North Series performance before the SPEED Channel cameras will come this Saturday night, July 12, in the Pepsi Racing 150 at Thompson International Speedway. The series only appearance of the season on the high-banked 5/8-mile oval is a one-day event with practice beginning at 12 noon and Bud Pole Qualifying at 4:15 p.m. Pepsi Racing 150 race time is set for approximately 8:30 p.m. A full slate of NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series racing will be featured as well. Broadcast date for the Pepsi Racing 150 is Saturday, July 26, at 10 a.m. Eastern time.
Not only has the number of Busch North Series events on SPEED Channel increased, but the broadcasts have been upgraded technically as well with more cameras, improved graphics, and the announcers live at the track for all events. For the Pepsi Racing 150, the on-air talent will be a 100% New England group. Providing the play-by-play is veteran motorsports broadcaster Rick Benjamin, a Danbury, Conn., native who grew up following his family's race team around the region. The booth analyst is Jeff Fuller, the former Featherlite Modified Series champion who scored his only career Busch North Series victory at Thompson in 1996, while Gary Danko, announcer at Stafford Motor Speedway and other area tracks, covers the pit area. Yet another familiar face to New England racers and fans will be at work behind the scenes, as modified driver and noted videographer Tim Deroin serves as director for the Thompson broadcast.
The live-to-tape format, as it is known in the TV industry, requires more personnel, more equipment, and more concentration than editing the tape and adding the commentary in the studio. Needless to say, it's more expensive, too. According to Rick Benjamin, whose experience extends from Daytona to LeMans, it's worth the added effort. "Certainly it's more demanding, but you know me, I love to be at the track, especially a track in my home state where we raced when I was a kid," he related, adding "Being there is 20 times better than being in the studio."
"There are so many advantages to being there," Benjamin continued. "You get to feel the excitement, you get to see everything that happens, you get a sense of where the series is and where it's going."
Pit reporter Gary Danko, who made his SPEED Channel debut in the recent telecast from Holland (N.Y.) Speedway, will get a workout at Thompson, where pit stops for tire changes as well as adjustments and repairs will be a developing story during the 150 laps. "What you're seeing is what the camera is seeing, so you want to be precise when you're calling a pit stop," Danko noted, adding the post-race interviews are a challenge as well. "Matt Kobyluck, who always tells it like it is; Kelly Moore, who gets his point across very diplomatically; and Dave Dion, who's one of the most colorful characters in racing" rank high on Danko's list of fascinating subjects for post-race comments.
The effort put forth by NASCAR and SPEED Channel to upgrade the Grand National Division television package has been noted with approval in the garage area. "It's a big step in the right direction," declared Little Trees Chevrolet driver and former Busch North Series champion Mike Olsen, speaking as both a racer and a businessman. "It gets our name and our sponsors out to a lot more people, and it's a good product with a quick turn-around time," he added.
"NASCAR has done a great job in bringing the Busch North Series and Winston West Series together and giving them a premier national event," Rick Benjamin observed. Looking at the long-term possibilities, he pointed out the potential for the regular-season telecasts like the Pepsi Racing 150 at Thompson to build up interest among a new fan base, leading to the Toyota All-Star Showdown, which will air live on Saturday night, November 8 from Irwindale Speedway. "Andy Santerre, Mike Stefanik, and the rest of the Busch North drivers put on a great show, and NASCAR fans in the northeast know all about it," Benjamin declared. "SPEED Channel is proud to be able to showcase their talents to a wider audience of race fans around the country."
NEWS OF NOTE
*The 2002 Pepsi Racing 150 was a two-man battle most of the night between Brad Leighton and Martin Truex Jr,, with Leighton prevailing after taking the lead for the final time on lap 115. Truex won the Bud Pole and led the first 85 laps, but faded to ninth at the finish. Leighton edged fast-closing Tracy Gordon for the win, with Mike Johnson, Jamie Aube, and Kelly Moore completing the top five. Gordon came all the way from 21st in the lineup. Eventual champion Andy Santerre had one of his poorest races of the year, finishing 13th.
* Martin Truex Jr. set a Bud Pole Qualifying record at Thompson in 2002, turning the 5/8-mile track in 20.200 seconds, 111.386 miles per hour. Thompson is the fastest short track (less than one mile) on the Busch North Series schedule.
* The 2003 Pepsi Racing 150 will be the 20th Busch North Series race at Thompson. Ricky Craven and Mike Stefanik share the lead with three victories each, followed by Bobby Dragon, Kelly Moore, and Jerry Marquis with two wins. Ken Bouchard, Robbie Crouch, Andy Santerre, Jeff Fuller, Tracy Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Leighton are one-time winners. The wins for Bouchard and Fuller were their only Busch North Series victories.
* Thompson International Speedway is the only Busch North Series track which operated before World War II. It opened in May 1940 as the first paved speedway on the east coast. It hosted a NASCAR Winston Cup race on July 9, 1970, won by Bobby Isaac, as part of the annual Northern Tour which followed the Firecracker 400 (now Pepsi 400) at Daytona. In the 1950's and 60's there was also a road course which used turns 3 and 4 of the speedway- the road from the pits to the staging area outside turn 2 is a remaining part of the road course.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
September 13, 1998: Mike Stefanik passed Bryan Wall with 17 laps to go and won his second straight 300-lap Busch North Series race at Thompson, putting himself firmly in the driver's seat for a second straight series title. Stefanik started third, but led only three laps before he took the lead for good. Wall, Jamie Aube, Tracy Gordon, and Rick Fuller completed the top five.
What: Pepsi Racing 150, NASCAR Grand National Division, Busch North
Series Race #7 of 18
Where: Thompson International Speedway, Thompson, Conn.
When: Saturday, July 12, 8:30 p.m. (approx.)
Track layout: .625 mile high-banked oval
Race length: 150 laps, 93.75 miles
Television: SPEED Channel, Saturday, July 26, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
Schedule: Saturday, July 12 -- Practice 12:00 noon to 12:45 p.m. & 2:00 to 2:45 p.m.; Bud Pole Qualifying 4:15 p.m.; Pepsi Racing 150 8:30 p.m. (approx.)